I should first make clear that this is a biased review. My short story ‘The Chameleon’ was published in The Battered Suitcase in December 2008. The Press behind The Battered Suitcase, Vagabondage Press is also responsible for nurturing the Little Episodes Arts Community, a project I have been following with interest. It aims to bring together artists, writers, and performers who have suffered or are suffering from mental illness and produce kick-ass art. Thirdly, I love the word ‘Vagabondage’ and think that ‘Battered Suitcase’ is a wonderful title. I’m jealous they nabbed them first.
The Battered Suitcase is an online ‘zine, and you have to admire its sheer bravado in producing a 167-page monster. After all, aren’t we internauts supposed to have the attention span of a goldfish? Much like a suitcase, you don’t have to unload its contents unto the floor in one go – you can pick out the Short Shorts firsts, and from there progress to the Short Stories, Non-Fiction, the Novellas, Poetry, and Art. I can’t pretend I’ll give each work the attention it deserves, it would take up too much time. Instead I’ll offer some quick arbitrary reviews of a few categories that will hopefully leave you wanting some more and send you flying to the Battered Suitcase – Spring 2010.
In the Short Shorts Category two tales caught my eye. First, I’ve picked ‘The Greedy Dress’ by Melinda Giordono for its cruel sensuality. Only three paragraphs long, Giordono’s story manages to make the wearing of a dress deliciously macabre. I am not surprised to read in the biography that Giordono has been published in Danse Macabre. This piece of flash fiction fits in well with their aesthetic:
‘The unyielding prison of fabric pressed and bruised her skin like selfish fingers.’
The dress and its wearer are caught in an abusive relationship: ‘But it must love her, she reasoned, because it made her beautiful’. It’s a well-worn path that Giordono is treading on, but she fortunately handles The Morality subtly enough that it doesn’t overcome the tale.
In contrast, in the same category, there is ‘Balloon’ by Lydia Ship. ‘Balloon’ is a cautionary tale of a man whose head ‘grew slightly puffy, as if retaining water’ the more books he read. The inflation is so extreme that the man has trouble keeping his feet on the ground. The narrative is funny, fast-paced, and related in a stream of consciousness style by the other half of Balloon-man.
Ship writes playfully with an attention to sound:
‘The mummified packages began arriving weekly, old books printed in the seventies, new books with a gluey smell, Foucault, Diderot, Hugo, Bellow, C.P. Snow, John Doe…’
‘Balloon’ will frustrate anyone trying to find a logic in the works digested by its hero, but it is perhaps beside the point. This short short is meant as a bitter sweet fairytale:
‘any of us, for that matter, floating among the trees, tinctures of the clouds, heavy heads, airborne hearts’.
I read Nancy Williams’ ‘Expiration Date’ a few weeks ago and it stuck in my brain so it feels appropriate to point it out. It relates Williams’ first job after grad school working as a hospice social worker. Williams’ account doesn’t try to glorify her position as selfless or brave, she is in fact quite entertainingly critical of her failings:
‘I also worried that, after my constant exposure to book and movie deaths, a real one wouldn’t live up to my expectations. What if I found it a bore? If I knew myself at all — and I feared that I did — I’d probably end up critiquing the scene, or jazzing it up in my mind to increase its entertainment value.’
The job gradually takes over Williams’ life, she gives directions based on which funeral parlour is nearest and goes straight to the chrysanthemums in a flower shop. I was led along, as equally surprised as her to realize that death doesn’t make appointments.
I’m worried about being over-positive about this review, ‘Surely’ you might say, ‘Surely there are some duds?’ Since I’m not pretending to be objective in this review, I will confess that yes, some works appealed to me more than others. For instance, I’m not mad about Bob Brill’s ‘Florida Suite’ – an impressionist poem made up of three line stanzas such as :
‘in the room next door
a couple dressing for dinner
argue about money’
Each stanza highlights a different room, or setting of this hotel – the imagery sticks to well-worn stereotypes: the lonely woman drinking at a bar, the band leader forcing a smile, women sharing photos of their grandchildren. These stanzas are set into two columns which redeem the poem somewhat by offering an alternative way of reading it. This interesting quirk might be accidental – a way of keeping the poem unto the same page. This isn’t made clear, especially as the poem lacks punctuation.
In fact the two column style of three line stanzas seems to be a theme of this issue, Madeline Caritas Logman provides another one with ‘The River’, but this time it is definitely a case of fitting the poem unto the same page. ‘The River’ is a time-capsule poem, an attempt to bottle the emotions and tastes associated with being seventeen. It captures well the intensity of being seventeen, the extremes of passion, the energy but also the monotony of the week-days:
‘the toxins that built up
deep inside us, the lethargy
of sleepwalking through a
routine day after day and then
staring sleeplessly at ceilings’.
This is Longman’s first publication and it is a promising one. Freshly out of school, her poem harnesses impressively teenage angst and knows how to deliver a killer blow.
The Battered Suitcase doesn’t just use art as a filler or an illustration for the writing. Each artist is given his own separate section – a personal showcase as it were. Talonabraxas’ work caught my eye, his work has a steampunk, noir, surrealist quality that I find appealing.
‘Heart Girt with a Serpent’ reminds me of Futurist Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) in the best possible way. The way Talonabraxas renders the human body alien is a theme in this mini-collection. I just wish The Battered Suitcase would subtitle these works with the medium of creation, particularly as this is an artist who likes to dabble in various techniques.
I have barely brushed the surface of course, but I hope that these tasters encourage you to plunge into the innovative, surprising and ambitious online magazine that is The Battered Suitcase. It is available in different versions: online where you can click on every author individually; as a pdf; for kindle, sony or stanza readers. One of these is bound to suit you. So go ahead, start unpacking (sorry).